Objective: To determine the prevalence of unrecognized or unsuccessfully treated depression among high utilizers of medical care, and to describe the relation between depression, medical comorbidities, and resource utilization.
Setting: Three HMOs located in different geographic regions of the United States.
Patients: A total of 12,773 HMO members were identified as high utilizers. Eligibility criteria for depression screening were met by 10,461 patients.
Measurements and main results: Depression status was assessed with the Structured Clinical Interview for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fourth Edition. Depression screening was completed in 7,203 patients who were high utilizers of medical care, of whom 1,465 (20.3%) screened positive for current major depression or major depression in partial remission. Among depressed patients, 621 (42.4%) had had a visit with a mental health specialist or a diagnosis of depression or both within the previous 2 years. The prevalence of well-defined medical conditions was the same in patients with and patients without evidence of depression (41.5% vs 41.5%, p = .87). However, high-utilizing patients who had not made a visit for a nonspecific complaint during the previous 2 years were at significantly lower risk of depression (13.1% vs 22.4%, p < .001). Patients with current depression or depression in partial remission had significantly higher numbers of annual office visits and hospital days per 1,000 than patients without depression.
Conclusions: Although there was evidence that mental health problems had previously been recognized in many of the patients, a large percentage of high utilizers still suffered from active depression that either went unrecognized or was not being treated successfully. Patients who had not made visits for nonspecific complaints were at significantly lower risk of depression. Depression among high utilizers was associated with higher resource utilization.